All downhill from here!

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    To everyone who made the Great Gulf News Trolley Derby such a success, thank you on behalf of all of us at Gulf News.

    There are dozens of people listed at the back of this week’s 16-page souvenir lift-out without whom the racing would never have achieved lift-off but there are also hundreds more – the friends and family press-ganged into helping set up and run the show, the street-lining crowds who guaranteed the spirit of the event, and the tinkerers, toilers and trolley test-drivers intent on providing such a glorious variety of vehicles – who ensured race day was a marvellous mix of Waiheke tradition and novelty.

    That Sunday’s racing marked the 30th anniversary of the first Waiheke trolley derby was an added bonus and cause for celebration but it also gave opportunity to delve into the archives and see what had changed from that first event – originally devised as part of the farewell celebrations for the outgoing county council after the Local Government Commission had decided to coagulate Auckland’s local authorities into the first super city.

    And what’s most striking is the similarities.

    Within the pages of that race day edition, Gulf Ferries were announcing plans for their new Jet Raider (which nicely dovetails with this week’s report on Fullers’ new ferries finally sailing into Auckland), Matiatia’s “high priority” development was still entrapped in talking shops, Waiheke was nervously side-eyeing the bigwigs in Town Hall and Forest & Bird was filling the letters page with a call to save our indigenous forests.

    The photos, too, of the trolley racing were remarkably similar to those that are spread throughout this edition. There’s something truly wonderful about the mechanics of trolley-building that has clearly not changed over three decades – and, yes, this year’s insectoid gyro-trolley did have a whiff of futurism about it, and, yes, health and safety has changed our approach to some of the more slap-dash steering systems – but the vast majority of vehicles followed the tried-and-tested philosophy of “anything goes”.

    Clearly over the past months, workshops, sheds – even front rooms – have rung to the sound of concerted construction as each team devised its most personal way to hurtle downhill through Oneroa. Stories emerged each week in the newsroom of poignant tributes, neighbourly help, wacky racers and the odd calamity – some of those stories have been and are told in these pages, but, rest assured, we know that there have been as many stories of endeavour as the number of entries that rolled up to the start line.

    Thirty years ago, then editor Simon Johnston wrote “Some of the designs saw the Waiheke principle of not knowing when to stop applied with a certain nerve-wracking ingenuity” – and judging by the mess of humans, carts and hay in some of the archive photos, that was certainly written with all meanings intended. 

    That same ingenuity – although thank goodness not the same crash landings – was very much apparent in the pits and around the course on Sunday and painted a glorious picture of a Waiheke attitude that has changed little over the past 30 years.

    In her introduction to our trolley derby lift-out, Gulf News editor and owner Liz Waters writes that the 2019 Trolley Derby has reignited much of the spirit of 1989 and, for myself as a relative new-comer, it’s been wonderful to see proof that among our island’s changing landscapes and developments, there is a thread of continuity that can be embodied by community traditions such as the trolley derby.

    Long may it continue.

    But in trying to sum up how the trolley derby has been such a beautiful expression of Waiheke’s community, the final word must go to a voice from 30 years ago.

    On page five of that November 3, 1989, “Late Great County Carnival Trolley Derby and Dance” edition of Gulf News was a letter that nicely explains the balance of tradition and innovation for which Waiheke has always strived and which an event such as the trolley derby epitomises. Signed by Raewyn, Lew and Luke Gifford from Ostend, the letter, titled “A Great Weekend”, ended with this magnificent sentiment:

    “I found myself standing on Palm Beach reminiscing on how this was what Waiheke used to be like, when I suddenly realised it still is. That’s why we live here. I hope that the out with the old and in with the new continues in this spirit.”  James Belfield

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